Magic Strikes
by Ilona Andrews
384pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.53/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.6/5

Magic Bleeds is the newest installment in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, a married couple who write together. It is the fourth book following Magic Bites, Magic Burns and Magic Strikes, which are best read in that order. There is also a related novella with a different main protagonist, Magic Mourns, in the anthology Must Love Hellhounds.

Note: There will be spoilers for the first three books in this series in this review – really big ones such as how Magic Strikes ends. This applies to the entire review, not just the plot description.

Although it is the end of Kate’s shift working for the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, she is called to look into an emergency situation when a fight breaks out at a bar. The Steel Horse is not just any bar since it exists on the border between the Pack of shapeshifters and the People, part of a company/research facility of necromancers. It’s one of the few places where the two gather and behave in a civil manner, and neither one is given to drinking much in order to stay in control – the Pack over their beast nature and the People over the vampires that will rip all in sight to shreds if they’re not being careful. Due to the presence of these two dangerous factions, Kate has to wonder at the type of person who would dare attack someone there:

Who the hell would attack the Steel Horse anyway? What was the thinking behind that? “Here is a bar full of psychotic killers who grow giant claws and people who pilot the undead for a living. I think I’ll go wreck the place.” [pp. 10]

However, it’s her job and she is enticed with promises of cookies so she heads over to check it out.

What she finds there is even worse than Kate had anticipated – the dead body of a man is pinned to a pole by a crowbar. Further examination reveals the corpse is infested with a living, intelligent disease that must be contained quickly. Once Biohazard takes care of the potential plague and clears Kate as being uninfected, she does some questioning but the main clue is that a man in a cloak was the instigator. Thus begins the case of the “Steel Mary,” which Kate throws herself into as she tries to forget about Curran, who recently stood her up.

Each book in this series has been better than the last, and Magic Strikes was so excellent that it was going to be difficult just to match it. Magic Bleeds did take longer than the third book in the series to really hook me, but once it got going it had everything I loved about the previous installment – great character interactions, lots of action, humorous dialogue and occurrences, a strong mythological basis outside of the ordinary, so many memorable moments and lots of references to The Princess Bride (and other literature but mainly The Princess Bride). It was one of those books that had me rereading parts I just read before moving on, and I didn’t want it to be over. At times heart-wrenching, at times heartwarming, it was very emotionally gripping.

When I say it took me longer to get absorbed in this one, it was probably largely due to impatience because it was immediately interesting. It’s just that so much happened at the end of Magic Strikes and I really wanted to see how all that played out. Plus I found it a little disconcerting that so little seemed to have changed after all that had happened at the end of that novel. Kate destroyed Roland’s sword in front of an arena full of people, including Roland’s own personal warlord who has to know exactly what that means, and she’s just continuing on with her life working for the Order as if nothing happened? She hasn’t had to go into hiding or been hunted down? This didn’t make a lot of sense to me at first, but this concern was addressed and it seemed perfectly logical later.

Not much may have seemed different toward the beginning, but there were a lot of big changes by the end. It was not at all predictable and a lot of events were ones I did not see coming at all – and so many of them were so very satisfying to read about. It felt like the overall story arc was concluded, but it also had little mysteries that leave one wondering what will happen in the next book. I particularly love how slowly information about Roland has been revealed with little bits and pieces that leave one theorizing about just who he is (I have my suspicions, especially after reading the story of the first vampire).

Although I would never say it crossed the line from urban fantasy into paranormal romance, this is more relationship-oriented than the other books in the series since Kate and Curran face their own relationship. When reading this one, it really struck me just how perfect Kate and Curran could be together – they are both so stubborn and set in their ways. If one of them is going to be with someone else, that someone had better be just as hardheaded. Curran needs to let go of his protectiveness and belief that it’s his way or no way, and Kate needs to do the same to a certain extent. They clash so much because of their personalities, but neither one could be with anyone less aggressive without walking all over that person. If they care enough to compromise, both of them would probably be better off because of it.

As with the previous installment, there was some info dumping. There seems to actually be more of this as the series continues, probably because a lot of this is to explain events that happened in the earlier books. Even so, the overall quality has been increasing not decreasing so I’m not going to complain too much about the more frequent stops to fill in readers unfamiliar with previous installments.

Magic Bleeds is another strong addition to the series that manages to uphold the same high standard set by Magic Strikes. Each book delves a little further into Kate’s past as it comes to affect her present. This one discloses even more than the last, but it also manages to remain delightfully suspenseful by not giving too much away. Ilona Andrews continues to excel at balancing character and plot with a good dose of humor while slowly unraveling and advancing the storyline.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it after refusing to begin another book on the bus ride home from Book Expo America – because no other book would do after finishing Magic Strikes.

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Earlier this week Laini Taylor announced that her book tentatively titled Daughter of Smoke and Bone was picked up by Little Brown Books for Young Readers. Its release date is fall 2011. In the post on her blog, she discusses some of how this new book came to be and mentions that the next Dreamdark book will not be coming out anytime soon although she will finish them someday.

This is very exciting news (the new book, not the lack of Dreamdark books which made me sad). I’ve read both Dreamdark books as well as Lips Touch: Three Times and think Laini Taylor has a lot of talent. Each of her books is better than the last and she has both a wonderful imagination and beautiful prose style. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for anything she writes.

Magic Strikes
by Ilona Andrews
320pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.35/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.49/5

Magic Strikes is the third book in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, the pseudonym for a husband and wife who write novels together. Currently, there are four books out of a contracted seven available. The books in this urban fantasy series are in order as follows: Magic Bites, Magic Burns, Magic Strikes and Magic Bleeds. There is also a novella that takes place between the third and fourth books called Magic Mourns in the collection Must Love Hellhounds about Kate’s friend Andrea.

Note: Since this is the third book in a series, there will be spoilers for the previous books.

Magic Strikes picks up about two months after the end of the second book. During these two months, there has been no magic until a couple of days ago. Then the magic came back in full swing, leaving Kate with no time to sleep as she and the rest of the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid are dealing with an influx of supernatural creatures such as tatzelwyrms and two-headed serpents. After rescuing an old lady/harpy from a telephone pole, Kate cannot wait to go home and finally get to eat and rest. Unfortunately for Kate, as soon as she begins dreaming of her last slice of pie, she’s called to go check on a situation involving a dead shapeshifter from the Pack. Although she dutifully arrives on the scene, she is told by Jim, the head of Pack security as well as her old mercenary partner, that it is Pack business and they do not want her help with the matter.

Soon after she gets a chance to go home and eat dinner, Kate discovers Jim is not her only friend from the Pack acting strangely – Saiman calls her to let her know he caught Derek trying to steal his tickets to the Midnight Games, illegal arena-style fights. He is willing to release Derek to Kate and ignore the whole incident but only on the condition that she accompany him to the Midnight Games. Kate agrees, and Derek requests that she give a letter to a woman at the games after securing her promise that she will not read the note. Against her better judgment, Kate keeps her word, but after her one visit to the games she learns some of the Pack members are involved in a huge mess.

The first book in this series was decent and the next one was even better, but Magic Strikes made me a Kate Daniels addict. Each of these books builds on the last and this one was riveting from start to finish. It’s a relatively short book but it manages to fit a lot in while maintaining a great balance between plot/action and character development/interaction.

This is a wonderful addition to the series because it is just so satisfying. At this point, Kate has become a sympathetic, fleshed out character – those glimpses of the fear hiding behind her smart comments in the first book have become more frequent and the more that is revealed about her past, the easier she is to understand. With each book, Kate seems to open up to the people around her more and let them in. This is reflected in her voice as she also seems to be letting down her guard somewhat regarding what information she discloses to readers through her narrative. With each novel, more of her history is told and this book explains some parts that really made one curious, including the mystery surrounding Kate’s blood. Yet it also opens up more questions to theorize about instead of wrapping everything up.

In spite of her increasing ability to become close to others, Kate doesn’t completely let go when it seems practical to do so which makes her growth seem more realistic. Although she has a best friend in Andrea now and seems very close to Julie and Derek, she is still very conflicted when it comes to Curran – and with good reason. Although she is attracted to him, she doesn’t want to become just another woman Curran becomes bored with. There are more scenes with Curran in this book than the previous two and their banter and Kate’s reactions to him are quite hilarious. Even with the increased focus on their relationship, they were spread out very well throughout the rest of the story so it never felt like too much emphasis was placed on it. All the characters who appear are wonderful to read about and the parts with Saiman and Kate are nearly as good as the parts with Curran (and we do learn more about Saiman in this book). There are some good moments with Andrea as well, especially one particular important one toward the end that says a lot about Kate’s growth since we first met her.

With the storyline dealing with the Midnight Games, there were even more fights than usual in this novel. Often I find reading about battles bores me, but every single one had me on the edge of my seat. Reading them through Kate’s eyes shades it with her humor, and there’s so much tension when she’s personally involved. Previous installments have shown that not everything always turns out rosy for all involved at the end, and although she is powerful, Kate is also written the way a powerful heroine should be – she is not invincible. There is still a sense of danger because she’s not the only one in the universe who has power, and she does get seriously injured quite often. She’s still young and inexperienced in some ways and has had to work for a lot of her skill, particularly with her sword.

Like the previous installment, this one has a plot involving mythology. It’s a type of world myth that isn’t explored as often as many, and the author seems to be trying to avoid the pitfall of overusing too much of the familiar. I had to laugh when Dali mentioned Jupiter to Jim during an explanation of the mythology:

“The Roman god?” Jim frowned.

“No, the planet. Honestly, Jim the world doesn’t revolve around the Greco-Roman pantheon.” [pp. 186]

My one complaint would be that there are some infodumps, especially toward the beginning. However, between reading them from Kate’s perspective and the strength of the rest of the book, it wasn’t that bothersome.

Magic Strikes started out strong, remained engaging through the middle and had a fantastic conclusion that showed a lot about Kate and how far she’s come since the first book. Plot and characterization are well-balanced throughout and nearly every single scene is memorable and entertaining.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Read Chapter One

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Poison Study
by Maria V. Snyder
416pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.18/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.21/5

Poison Study is the first book in the Study trilogy by Maria V. Snyder and is followed by Magic Study and Fire Study, respectively. The first two books in this series have been released both as fantasy and young adult titles.

When Yelena is escorted from prison by a couple of guards, she knows she is most likely about to be executed for murdering General Brazell’s son. The law is very strict that anyone who takes a life during peacetime will be hanged under any circumstances, including an unfortunate accident or killing in self-defense. After spending nearly a year imprisoned, Yelena has been expecting this moment.

Instead, Yelena learns that the same strict law that enforces the death penalty so harshly has one exception: once the position of food taster for the Commander is vacant, it is offered to the next prisoner facing execution. Fortunately for Yelena, this is the case and she is given the choice of dying immediately or delaying her death while working in a profession likely to cause it. Once she is assured this is not a cruel joke by Valek, the chief of security, Yelena jumps on the chance even though she wonders what makes them so sure a convicted felon will not escape at the first opportunity.

As soon as she accepts, Valek gets drinks for both of them to toast Yelena. Once Yelena has drunk from her cup, he teaches her to identify a poison called Butterfly’s Dust by showing her the difference between his drink and hers. If Yelena wants to avoid a slow and painful death, she must take the antidote every day, making leaving the premises futile – but as she endures close calls with General Brazell’s men and suspects a possible conspiracy, poison may be the least of her concerns.

Poison Study was engrossing from the beginning and remained fast-paced throughout with plenty of cliff-hanger chapter endings, although the early parts of the novel were stronger than the end. There was some info-dumping about how the world worked yet it was kept in short blocks and interspersed with so much suspense about what would happen next that it was barely noticeable. It was a fairly succinct novel that kept moving, but there was attention to detail without getting bogged down by too much information. In particular, the parts concerning Yelena’s lessons in food tasting methods made it seem well thought out since they included ways to make it difficult for potential poisoners to figure out how to trick the taster.

The strength of this novel was that it was an exciting read. The characters did not have a lot of depth, including the main protagonist. The main villain did seem too evil and some other characters seemed too dedicated to goodness. The commander himself was the most fascinating and I would have liked to have read more about him. He overthrew the king and created his own society with very black and white rules – everyone must wear a uniform showing their rank, everyone who kills someone must die no matter what the reason, and the practice of any magic is forbidden. Yet there is a sense that this new order even with its weaknesses is preferable to the old. The more that is discovered about the commander, the more he shines as the most intriguing single character in the novel.

Even though the main protagonist and first person narrator of the story is immediately revealed to have killed a man, Yelena is a perfectly likable character. She makes no excuses for her actions, but there is a flashback on the very first page that gives the impression that she is not a bad person and that there is much more to this story than she is telling anyone, including us as readers. Also, even though she is not executed, she’s not in the clear, either – if she is poisoned, her death will most likely be far more agonizing than her hanging would have been. As the novel progresses, we learn more about her past and her motivations and my main complaint with Yelena comes to the forefront. Although Yelena is amiable, she does seem to have the flaw of being far too perfect – she’s intelligent and a fast learner when it comes to both attaining knowledge and fighting. (There’s much more but to avoid spoilers I’m not going to list the rest of what I scribbled down in my outline notes.) This didn’t bother me greatly since the novel was a lot of fun to read and she did have a lot of personal struggles, but it was a little irritating that she seemed to be able to do pretty much anything.

Poison Study is an engaging read with a different perspective as seen through the eyes of a food taster for an important official. It makes one want to keep reading until the end, but it does suffer from some flat characterization and the main character’s tendency toward mastering any and every challenge put before her. However, this wasn’t a huge deal as it was a very enjoyable, well-paced book anyway.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: It was a Christmas gift from books on my wish list.

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Yesterday I finished a draft of a review of Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, so hopefully I will get that up soon. Currently, I am working on a review of Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews, one of my favorite books read this year so far. I started reading Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey since it is a very long book and I figured that I’d be caught up on reviews by the time I finished it without any problem. However, I’m already halfway through it and still have 3 reviews left to write. It’s a lot less dense than Kushiel’s Dart was, making it a faster read than I’d anticipated. Plus it is just plain wonderful and I love it. This is shaping up to be a year filled with lots of great books!

This week I got 2 books, one review copy and one bought because I cannot resist those 40% off Borders coupons. Also, I realized I forgot to mention my first e-book purchase from a few weeks ago so I’ll include that in this week’s list.

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

The first book in The Spiritwalker trilogy will be released on September 9, 2010. I’ve been wanting to read something by Kate Elliott for a while and this book in particular looks very good so I’m excited about it. It’s supposed to be steampunk and Kate Elliott says on her website that she refers to it as her “Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy with Bonus! airship, Phoenician spies, and the intelligent descendants of troodons.” I’m definitely planning on reading it sometime closer to its release date.

From one of the genre’s finest writers comes a bold new epic fantasy in which science and magic are locked in a deadly struggle.

It is the dawn of a new age… The Industrial Revolution has begun, factories are springing up across the country, and new technologies are transforming in the cities. But the old ways do not die easy.

Cat and Bee are part of this revolution. Young women at college, learning of the science that will shape their future and ignorant of the magics that rule their families. But all of that will change when the Cold Mages come for Cat. New dangers lurk around every corner and hidden threats menace her every move. If blood can’t be trusted, who can you trust?

On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

Reading the Kate Daniels series has made me an Ilona Andrews fan so it was easy for me to decide what book to get when I got a 40% off Borders coupon this week. This is the first book in the Edge series and I figured I should read it so I can read the second book, Bayou Moon, when it comes out in September. I’ve heard that unlike the Kate Daniels books this one is closer to paranormal romance than urban fantasy so I’m not entirely convinced I’ll like it as much as those books, but it does sound interesting. And did I mention it’s Ilona Andrews?

The Broken is a place where people shop at Wal-Mart and magic is nothing more than a fairy tale.

The Weird is a realm where blueblood aristocrats rule and the strength of your magic can change your destiny.

Rose Drayton lives on the Edge, the place between both worlds. A perilous existence indeed, made even more so by a flood of magic-hungry creatures bent on absolute destruction.

Warchild by Karin Lowachee

This book was actually purchased toward the end of May, but I completely forgot to include it since it was my first time buying a digital book instead of a paper one. I’m not convinced e-books are for me since I’ve found that when I read excerpts I tend to skim and don’t enjoy it as much, but maybe that’s partially because I’ve only read portions of a book on the iPad instead of settling in to read a whole book. This is a book I’ve wanted to read for a while, but it is difficult to find and it’s around $20 for the mass market paperback on Amazon so buying the digital version was significantly cheaper. Plus I read the sample on iBooks and thought it seemed very absorbing so I figured it would be a decent book to start with for my first e-book reading experience. Now to forge a big enough hole in the paper book pile to start it…

The merchant ship Mukudori encompasses the whole of eight-year-old Jos’s world, until a notorious pirate destroys the ship, slaughters the adults, and enslaves the children. Thus begins a desperate odyssey of terror and escape that takes Jos beyond known space to the homeworld of the strits, Earth’s alien enemies. To survive, the boy must become a living weapon and a master spy. But no training will protect Jos in a war where every hope might be a deadly lie, and every friendship might hide a lethal betrayal. And all the while he will face the most grueling trial of his life – becoming his own man.

Servant of a Dark God
by John Brown
448pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 6.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.17/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.57/5

Servant of a Dark God is the beginning of an epic fantasy trilogy by John Brown. The second book in the Dark Gods series, Curse of a Dark God, will be released in January 2011. Dark God’s Glory, the final novel, will be available in 2012.

Talen has a big problem – he can’t find his work pants, the only pair of pants he owns other than one pair of good trousers. Knowing no one would want his grungy old work clothes other than a mischievous brother and sister, he hides an item belonging to each of his siblings. When River discovers her honey is missing and Ke cannot find his bowstrings, Talen confronts them about his disappearing clothing only to be chased out of the house and into a tree where they are found by his father. His father believes River and Ke when they insist they had nothing to do with Talen’s half-dressed state, accuses Talen of negligence and sends him to town with his good clothing to buy some hens.

As Talen nears the town, he worries when he sees no children playing or villagers working in the fields. He hurries to the gates, eager to be let in if there is some sort of looming disaster. Instead he is denied entry, accused of spying and beaten until the bailiff shows up demanding to know what is going on. There are two Sleth, feared soul-eaters with unnatural powers, on the loose and a bounty for killing them. These hunted children are Koramites, Talen’s people who are already despised by the Mokaddians who consider themselves better, and the Mokaddians are suspicious of any of these people now. Talen is sent to tell his father to gather the people in his area and search for the Sleth, but when Talen delivers his message his father seems less concerned about the soul-eater threat than the terrified Talen, insisting Talen needs to be more worried about being mistaken for Sleth by an enthusiastic hunter.

Although Talen obsesses over capturing the Sleth before they find him, there is an even greater danger – a creature that is stalking the land at the behest of an ancient evil.

Servant of a Dark God started out rather slowly for me, but by the time it ended I was enjoying it. It probably took about 150 (out of 448) pages for me to really start to want to know what happened next in the book and I never really grew attached to any of the main point of view characters, although there was one who was at least interesting to read about. There were three characters who carried the majority of the third person perspectives – Talen, a teenage boy; Sugar, a teenage girl; and Hunger, a creature under the control of the primary villain. Early in the story, Talen got on my nerves as he was stubborn, quick to judge, and thought too much of his intelligence:

Talen, of course, inherited all the wit in the family, but nobody seemed to value that. He was never referred to as “the bright one” or “that great blaze of brains.” Instead, he got names like Twig and Hogan’s Runt. [pp. 15]

Is this over-inflated view of oneself perfectly believable for a teenage boy? Yes. Does it make him likable, especially as he seems to be the most ignorant person in the book? Not really, but at least he does undergo development throughout the course of the novel as he learns more about himself and his heritage and he ends up much less irritating later.

Despite the cringe-worthy name, Sugar was more engaging as a character as she had empathy and was more understanding about other people’s behavior even when they were not nice to her. Yet even though I far preferred her to Talen, she never really completely clicked for me as a character, either. Hunger was easily the most intriguing, but then I always appreciate getting the point of view of the “evil” side. However, Hunger wasn’t really evil; he was created by a being who used him for her evil deeds but he was more of a puppet, and as the story progressed, he also changed.

Once it picked up, the actual plot and fantasy storyline were far better than the characters, although I did tend to prefer the secondary characters to the main ones. I’d rather not give too much away, but I did really like the unveiling of the various secrets. The social structure and view of magic seemed to illustrate oppression through hoarding knowledge and there was the question of how much should one sacrifice for the greater good. After reading this book, I completely understood why David Farland, the author of the Runelords series, was so excited about it as I saw many similarities to his series (in themes explored, not in actual story, world-building or characters).

Although this is the start to a trilogy, the main storyline in this book did have a satisfying conclusion. It left room for more story, but it also could have ended right where it did and wouldn’t have made me feel like there needed to be more.

One minor complaint I had that is that there were a lot of typos, far many more than in the typical book I read. This is no way affects my rating or opinion of the book, but there were enough misspellings and use of the wrong word that it did bother me. The version I read was not an ARC but the final hardcover edition (I don’t mention these things if it is not the actual book since I understand it has not been completed yet but just wanted to clarify).

Servant of a Dark God took a while to pull me in and never made me fully care about the cast of characters, but the actual plot and fantasy setting did hold my interest once the story got going. Since it is a debut novel that had some potential, I would probably read the next book (although I would definitely wait for the paperback were I to purchase it).

My Rating: 6.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: A publicist had a copy sent to me.

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